1 Timothy 4

The assembly, in its practical and responsible standing before men as the witness of God’s revealed truth and will, naturally leads the apostle to treat of Satan’s efforts to undermine and falsify the truth, not without warning on God’s part.

“But the Spirit saith expressly that in latter times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons, by hypocrisy of legendmongers, branded in their own conscience, forbidding to marry, [bidding]18 to abstain from meats which God created for reception with thanksgiving by those faithful and fully acquainted with the truth. Because every creature of God [is] good, and nothing to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through God’s word and intercession” (vers. 1-5).

The mischief here set out is not the wider and later evil of 2 Tim. 3:1-9, when Christendom would be but men professing the Lord’s name, a form of piety with the denial of its power, no better than heathen in reality (cp. Rom. 1:28-32), though with the semblance and the responsibility of God’s final revelation of grace and truth in Christ. Still less is it the frightful apostacy of 2 Thess. 2:3-12, which is to close the age before the Lord Jesus be revealed in judgment from heaven to introduce the new age and the kingdom of God to be manifested in power and blessing universally over the earth. No such absolute or comprehensive enmity to the gospel and the Lord is seen here, but rather a sentimental and intellectual affectation of ascetic sanctimoniousness, the germs of which were even then at work and which were soon to develop into the Gnostic sects. It was human pretension, and not the faith of the holy communications of the divine mind nor the submission of heart to His will Who cannot but direct us for His glory through the corruptions of a world ruined by lust.

Here the liberty which characterizes those who have the Spirit is supplanted by a systematic bondage of man’s will, setting up to be holier than God, and founded on airy conceits, which, being exaggerations of the imagination, are never the truth which in the highest degree they claim to be. It is not the ease but the pretentious effort of the flesh inflated by the enemy, which at a later day brought in the oriental error of two divine principles, an evil as well as a good: the good having to do with the soul and characterized by light; the evil with the body and characterized by darkness; the God of the New Testament in contrast with the God of the Old in its ultimate Manichean form of heterodoxy. The root of this is apparent here. Slight on the creatures of God issues in slight of the Creator. Nor is the error dead yet, though it may retreat into cloudy phrases, shunning collision with the truth. In our day it has taken the shape of death to nature and neglect of relationships. It is the same principles which the Holy Spirit denounces here as the denial of fundamental truth, with which the highest revelations are never inconsistent. He that wrote to the Romans wrote also to the Ephesians, and the same apostle is the author of the Epistles to the Colossians and to the Hebrews. So it will always be found that those who are most truly versed in the mysteries of God are careful to maintain the immutable truths of His nature and the due place of the creature.

Here all was at fault. “Some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons, by hypocrisy of legend-mongers.” There were thus three parties in the abandonment of the faith; first, the victims of the errors, secondly, the unseen power of evil, the spirits or demons that misled, thirdly, the legendmongers who were the medium. This shows the importance of a correct translation. For it is not meant that the demons were the utterers of lies in hypocrisy, any more than that they were branded with a hot iron in their conscience. And this probably led to the softening down of the true phrase. Restore the medium, and any such necessity disappears. A man may utter falsehoods in hypocrisy. We can scarcely talk of a demon’s hypocrisy; and scripture certainly gives no warrant for attributing conscience to a seducing spirit. But this is exactly true of the false teachers who were carried along by these unseen agents of evil. They were the hypocrites, and they had “their own” conscience branded in distinction from the unhappy but less guilty men who were led astray by their means.

They forbade to marry and bade men to abstain from meats which God created for reception with thanksgiving by those faithful and fully acquainted with the truth. There was the assumption of extraordinary purity. But the wiles of the devil were in it; for the assumption impeached God’s institution of marriage, the bond of society here below. And God is not mocked. The result soon showed that the evil one was its author, for the deepest moral corruption was the consequence.

Grace may call a servant of God for special and worthy reasons to a path inconsistent with the married relation, because its duties could not be fulfilled with the due accomplishment of the objects of that path. So we see in the apostle Paul himself, as he lets us know in 1 Cor. 7. But this very chapter maintains the ordinary rule of the marriage state, as elsewhere he exhorts that it should be every way in honour. Only the call of God is paramount. Yet he that is so called respects and never despises the ordinary rule because of that exception. Error lays hold of the exception (for even error cannot subsist without a scrap or show of truth) and converts the exception into a human rule. It is Satan occupying the place and rights of the Lord; his aim is to bring God into contempt and lead man dazzled with the vain hope of higher holiness into the depths of corruption. It is the truth (and no lie is of the truth) which sanctifies.

So in bidding men to abstain from meats the same disrespect of God appears. He created them to be received with thanksgiving. No doubt all mankind were meant to share the benefit and do so in their measure; but many partake like brutes without real thanksgiving, often without even the form. The faithful thoroughly acquainted with the truth receive such gifts from God and give thanks. Satan exalts some to such a height of philosophic folly as to deny that they come from His hand Who reconciled them to Himself by the death of His Son; then to imagine them to be the temptations of an evil being; finally to conceive that there is no such thing as creation or consequently a Creator. So that the error if but a little in beginning becomes the beginning of a very great evil.

Here, again, the importance of fasting is in no way impaired by the thankful reception of daily bread. Rather do both things go together in every sound and godly mind. But the wiles of the devil were shown in availing himself of abstinence from food. Fasting is admirable in its own place and for special reasons from time to time as the grace of God may direct. Wholly opposed is the delusion of seducing spirits, which the legend-mongers turned into a law, as in the eschewing of marriage: “Because every creature of God is good and nothing to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through God’s word and intercession.” Thus the ordinary prohibitions of the law disappear, for in this respect as in others the law made nothing perfect. The gospel, the full revelation of Christ, whilst it rises to the glory of God in the highest and stands in presence of the inscrutable depths of God’s most holy judgment of sin in the cross, vindicates all the ways of God in creation as well as in providence. Hence the Christian, if not the Jew, can say that every creature of God is good and nothing to be rejected; but there is the proviso — “if received with thanksgiving.” An ungrateful saint is an anomaly. The simplest believer cannot more than the most intelligent overlook the kindness as well as the wisdom of God, Who created all things and has Himself said, “I will in no wise fail thee; neither will I in anywise forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).

But the apostle adds a reason which confirms the thanksgiving of the believer; “for it is sanctified through God’s word and intercession.” Thus is the use of every creature of God guarded. It is no mere indiscriminate licence; but as the restrictions of a law for a circumscribed people vanished before the light of the gospel, and the goodness of God was heard declaring that He had cleansed what Jewish prejudice would have to be common (“to the pure all things are pure”), so the receiver proved his faith in “God’s word” by the answer of his “intercession.” Not their will but His word sanctioned the use of every creature good for food; and their hearts, brought to know His grace in salvation, draw near in that free intercourse which is assured of, as it springs from, His love made known to us in Christ and His redemption. But it is an intercourse based on His grace, which takes in the least things as not too little for God, as it has learnt in Christ that the greatest things of God are not too great for His children.

The word ἐντευξις is here translated “intercession,” in order to keep up its speciality in accordance with its sense elsewhere, as in 1 Timothy 2:1. “Prayer,” though seemingly less harsh, and as in all the earlier English so still in the Revised, is too vague to express the free intercourse which grace has opened with God for His children. I admit that “intercession” sounds inadequate; but I know no better counterpart in our language and therefore have ventured to explain what appears to be conveyed. If God’s word communicated the reality and extent of His gracious will, the faithful can speak unrestrainedly their heart’s sense-of His loving bounty. Thus all that is received is “sanctified.” For, now that we know Christ dead and risen, here too we can say that the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. And all things are of God Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:19, 20).

Thence the apostle turns to a more precise application and, at the close, to what is yet more strictly personal. (vers. 6-16).

“Setting these things before the brethren, thou wilt be a good servant of Christ Jesus,19 nourished in the words of the faith and the good teaching which thou hast followed up. But the profane and old-womanish fables refuse, and exercise thyself unto piety; for bodily exercise is profitable for a little, but piety is profitable for all things, having promise of life that is now and of that which is to come. The word [is] faithful and worthy of all acceptance; for unto this end we 20labour and 21suffer reproach, because we have our hope set on a living God Who is Saviour of all men, especially of faithful [men]” (vers. 6-10).

The language employed is of studied moderation. Suggesting these things to the brethren Timothy would be a good minister of Christ Jesus. Dignity does not lose by lowliness in any: in a young man it is most becoming, and gives the most weight to a solemn warning. The object of all ministry is the exalting of Christ, but this cannot be at the expense of truth or holiness. The substitutes of the enemy may look fair and certainly flatter the flesh; but God’s word alone can be trusted. He infallibly secures not one thing only but all in the harmony of his revealed will. Human tradition is as worthless as human imagination, and both if accepted will be found in the long run only to supplant God’s word, and play into the power of the enemy through yielding to the will of man. To lay before the brethren what the Spirit expressly speaks is good ministry; — it is to serve Christ Jesus. So He Himself walked and served here below. His food was to do the will of Him that sent Him and to finish His work. What more blessed than so to walk and serve Him now? Men are best kept where Christ alone is the object, as He is the source of all power in the Spirit to guide and sustain. He called and He sent forth at His charges. How different the moral effect, for the minister as well as for others, of serving a society, even if that society were the church of God as the mistress of the service! He who seeks to please men cannot be thoroughly Christ’s bondman. We cannot serve two masters.

Timothy, in putting forth divine truth, would be a good servant of Christ Jesus: “Nourished in the words of the faith and in the good teaching which thou hast followed up.” This is of moment. To go on well in Christ’s service one must be trained or nourished up in the words of the faith. To give out, one must take in. But the proper material is not the science or literature of men, but the “words of the faith.” The good teaching, which Timothy had already followed up closely, yields matter for the right service of Christ Who repudiates the wisdom of this age. The words of the faith are ever beyond the age and above it. It is to Christ’s dishonour to mingle with them the persuasible words of man’s wisdom. The Holy Ghost has been given that there should be no lack through God’s bounty and also the most complete preservative against the seductions of the prince of the world.

What can be more contemptuous towards the constant snare of Jews as well as Gentiles than the apostle’s exhortation: “The profane and old-womanish fables refuse”! So he characterizes that which takes the place of God’s word, the food of faith. Where there is no healthy appetite of the new man, fabulous dreams have ever had an attraction for the heart and mind of man; and these which surely abound in proportion to distaste for divine revelation. They stimulate, they inflate, they in a measure satisfy nature. But the true God is not there, nor Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, and least of all where they dare most profanely to conceive and set forth either God or His Christ according to their own imaginings. What can be more offensive than the pseudo-evangels about the Lord? How palpable the darkness in contrast with the true light which shines in Him according to the Gospels! How absurd, indeed morally impotent and positively mischievous, the imaginary miracles of His childhood! How holy and wise and perfect the glimpses we have of the truth in the Gospel of Luke!

From old-wives’ fables Timothy was to turn away. But, says Paul, “exercise thyself unto piety.” Service of Christ is admirable; yet there is no greater danger if piety be neglected personally. It is of prime moment that this be kept up in the soul, as otherwise the comfort and joy as well as the sorrows and dangers of His service are most absorbing. The lightminded Corinthians were in great peril from the neglect of piety (1 Cor. 9:24-27). The apostle had therefore transferred the exhortation and for their sakes applied it to himself, when he told them that he was in the habit of buffeting his body and leading it captive, lest, after having preached to others, he should be himself reprobate or rejected. Not that he was careless of holiness and piety, but that they were. But he makes himself the example, unlike as it was to his way, that they might be warned of a very real danger for their own souls, not at all in distrust of God as to himself.

Here as in 1 Cor. 9 the figure of “exercise” appears to be taken from the public games and the necessary preparation for them, so familiar to the Greek mind. Timothy was to be in constant training: “Exercise thyself unto piety, for bodily exercise is useful (profitable) for a little, but piety is useful (profitable) for all things, having promise of life that is now and of that to come.” The allusion is evident. Outward exercise profits physically or as he says strictly, “bodily exercise is useful for a little.” Piety is spiritual exercise and demands as constant vigilance, as holy self-restraint, as complete subjection to the revealed will of God, even as training for the games called for habitual abstinence from every relaxing habit and for daily practice toward the end in view. How little the latter goal! How transcendent the former! Piety is profitable for all things, having promise of life that is now and of that to come. Christianity does not take tithes like Judaism, but can allow no reserve though all be grace. It has and from its very nature must have the entire man, dead to sin and alive unto God, right through the present life into eternity. And this wide practical scope of godliness is pre-eminent in these pastoral Epistles; not so much heavenly privilege or dispensational peculiarity is enforced as a sound and devoted life according to godliness. This the apostle presses on Timothy, as Timothy was bound to press it on others.

Hence the repetition of the formula so frequent in these Epistles: “The word is faithful and worthy of all acceptation; for unto this end we labour and suffer reproach, because we have our hope set on a living God Who is Saviour of all, especially of faithful [men].” It is no question here, it appears to me, of Christ’s work in the salvation of the lost who believe. It is of the living God as such that the apostle speaks — of God in His character of preserver of men, as also Job speaks (Job 7:20). God’s providential care and government are before us, wherein nothing escapes His notice. So He clothes the herbage of the field and nourishes the birds of heaven which sow not, nor reap, nor gather into granaries. So He makes His sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on just and unjust. How much more prized are not His own than many sparrows, even the hairs of their heads being all numbered!

No Christian could forget for a moment the infinite privilege of eternal life and redemption, of heavenly hope and everlasting glory; but, in presence of these unseen and eternal things, he might to his own great loss as well as to the Lord’s dishonour overlook the constant daily and special care of God in the ordinary matters of this life. Against such an error, this verse (10) as well as the previous context would guard the soul. The highest privileges do not supersede nor even enfeeble the unchanging truth in its lowest range of application every day. It is the unfailing mark of the heterodox where it is so; and this let faithful men note well. It was never more rife than now. Grace never disparages law nor despises nature; but an intellectualism which avails itself of privilege to destroy responsibility and relationship is guilty in both respects.

“These things charge and teach. Let none despise. thy youth, but be a pattern of the faithful in word, in conduct, in love,22 in faith, in purity. Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the elderhood.23 Bestow care on these things; be wholly in them; that thy progress may be manifest to24 all. Take heed to thyself and the teaching; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt save thyself and those that hear thee” (vers. 11-16).

Here we have plain personal precepts for Timothy. Absence of assumption gives more, not less, weight to a solemn charge or a faithful teaching; and there was the more need for admonition as he was young, though any who despised him on that account was inexcusable. But it was a serious reason for Timothy himself to cultivate such speech and manner of life, such love and faith and purity as ought to disarm even the naturally froward with whom he might have to do among the believers.

The adjoining terms give conclusive proof that the “reading” was not personal study but rather the public recitation of scripture for general instruction, since the “exhortation” and the “teaching” must refer to others; the importance of his own walk had been carefully insisted on just before.

Hence, immediately after, he is reminded of that gift of grace which was imparted to him, the ground of his ministry: for no practical grace, however momentous morally and for God’s glory, entitles a soul to go forward in Christ’s service without such a gift. It was, as we are told afterwards (2 Tim. 1:6), through the laying on of Paul’s hands that the gift was in Timothy; but none the less were the elderhood associated with the apostle in the imposition of hands. They were its comely witnesses and his honoured associates, though only to apostolic power under the Lord was the gift really due. And this is not more fully borne out by the facts and the language elsewhere than by the nice distinction of the prepositions in the account given in the two Epistles to Timothy. So little are they to be heard who assume either vagueness in a style strikingly precise, or a love of mere variety without intentional distinction in phrases more exquisitely correct than in any work of any classic of antiquity, however accurate. Here only, in inspired writ, can we be sure of the exact expression of the truth without affectation of any kind.

The connection of “prophecy” as well as of the “laying on of hands” is well illustrated by Acts 13:2, 3, where the Spirit designated Barnabas and Saul for the special mission to which they were separated; and their fellow-labourers thereon laid their hands on both, conjointly commending them to the grace of God for the work they were about to undertake among the Gentiles. There is, however, this marked difference among others, that none of those who then laid hands on these already blessed servants of the Lord pretended to confer a gift on either. It was simply fellowship in commending men superior in position and power to themselves; and it seems certainly to have been repeated with Paul and Silas in Acts 15:40, as perhaps often. In Timothy’s case,25 through the apostle was given a gift which he must not neglect. Use of means that the gift be turned to the best account is of moment; but the gift from the Lord for ministerial work must be there as a foundation. “Bestow care on these things; be wholly in them that thy progress may be manifest to all.” Diligent following up is called for, without distraction from other objects. Thus only is there growth and advance, which all fair men cannot fail to see.

But there is another caution of prime value, which if attended to entails rich blessing: “Take heed to thyself and the teaching,” and do so in this order. Vigilant and holy self-restraint is needed by no man so much as a teacher of the truth; for nothing corrupts one to the Lord’s dishonour and the stumbling of souls more than a careless behaviour combined with the highest doctrine. A consciously low walk ever tends to drag down the testimony in order to seem consistent; as the maintenance of the highest truth without a corresponding walk directly leads into hypocrisy. In doing aright in both, “thou shalt save both thyself and those that hear thee,” says the apostle. Salvation often as here means safeguarding all through this life.

18 This is a case of what the grammarians call Zeugma, where another verb is implied by the context, as in 1 Tim. 2:12.

19 The preponderance of ancient and excellent authority favours this order against that of Text. Rec., which has not the support of a single uncial in its primary reading. — Other variants in this verse and the three following are not worth recording here.

20 “Both” is not represented in the oldest copies, nor, in any ancient versions, contrary to Text. Rec. — But ἀγωνιζὸμεθα ”we strive,” or “we combat,” is supported by prn A C Fgr Ggr K and eight cursives against the rest which have ὀνειδιζόμθα as in Text. Rec.

21 Ibid.

22 “In spirit” stands in the Text. Rec., but against the best MSS. and all the ancient Vv.

23 The Sinaitic has some slight support against all the rest in the strange blunder of “the elder.”

24 The Text. Rec. adds “in” as in the margin of the Authorized Version. But “to” is the true reading. Did the Authorized Version owe it to the Vulgate?

25 Bengel is utterly wrong in construing “prophecy” with the elderhood, and in including Paul in that elderhood.